Categories
Computers Writing

Can eReaders replace books?

Several years ago (possibly even before the turn of the millennium), my brother told me that books would soon be a thing of the past and that everyone would be reading eBooks. Is it possible? Could eReaders and eBooks replace paperbacks and hardcovers the way cars replaced the horse and buggy, the way portable audio players (iPods, for those of you who don’t know alternatives to Apple exist) have replaced CDs and tapes, and the way email has replaced letters?

I use the word replace rather loosely, of course. In some rural areas, horses and buggies are still around. CDs are still available for purchase in stores, and some used music stores have old tapes, which people will still purchase occasionally. And the post office still delivers letters, mostly from businesses to other businesses. Nevertheless, the primary way for even the most affluent of people to read books is still to read paperback or hardcover books. I know no one who owns a Kindle. The first Kindle I ever saw I saw only once from far away on a bus. I haven’t seen horse-buggy combos outside of Pennsylvania, most people I know use portable audio players, and almost all communication I get from family and friends is electronic.

Will we give up our books for eBooks? I may end up regretting these words in ten years, but I don’t think I ever will. Yes, I’ve heard the Kindle can store hundreds of books. Yes, I’ve heard it doesn’t have a backlight, so it won’t be a strain on your eyes. Still, I don’t believe I’ll ever use an eBook Reader in place of reading real books. Of course, back in the mid-1990s I didn’t think I would ever email instead of writing letters to friends.

I wasn’t around when cars started replacing other modes of transportation, but I do very much remember switching from records to tapes to CDs and, eventually, to MP3s. I do have a bit of nostalgia for exchanging mix tapes with my friends, and I love the sound of a crisp record being gentle stroked by a turntable’s needle. All the letters people wrote me back in high school I have kept and will probably at some point, unlike the emails they’ve sent me over the years, re-read them. Why won’t I give up books for eBooks?

A few reasons:

  • Even though I like having hundreds of songs at my fingertips in a small device (because I can actually listen to many of them, if not all, in a week), rarely do I read more than two books at a time—usually only one.
  • When I have an electronic device, I have to make sure it’s charged, make sure it doesn’t get damaged. I have to take care of it. Now—I don’t throw any of my books against the wall, spill pizza sauce on them, or rip the pages out, but I like that I can just throw them in a bag, read them in the bath, and even leave them around (without worry they’ll be stolen).
  • The idea that Amazon can remotely erase an eBook I bought is ridiculous (as came out in the whole 1984 scandal recently). No book store is ever going to break into my apartment and take a book back that I bought just because they realized they didn’t have the rights to sell that book to me in the first place.

Go ahead, Amazon (or Sony), try to make me eat my words! I think the only way I’d switch to eReaders is if everyone else does and the only bookstores still left around are used book stores…

Categories
Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Windows

Software freedom does affect the end user

As a follow-up to an older post of mine (“Open Source for Non-Programmers”), I wanted to post a little bit about arbitrary limitations in software.

Thank God even Apple is now leaving behind DRM in its iTunes Music Store (Amazon has been doing so for quite a while with its MP3 store). While the music pirates were still out there pirating, my well-intentioned and law-abiding Windows- and Mac-using friends were constantly frustrated that this computer wasn’t authorized or this song wouldn’t play on that device. DRM was an artificial restriction on how many computers or devices could play a purchased song, and it wasn’t stopping music piracy. It was hurting the people who were trying to play by the rules.

Now the tech news is reporting that Microsoft (in attempt to phase out Windows XP) will release a crippled version of Windows 7 on netbooks that allows you to run only three applications at a time. So if you’re running Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin already, and then you want to open up OpenOffice to write an essay for class, you have to close Firefox first (or Thunderbird or Pidgin). Will DropBox count as an app? Will ScreenPrint32? Will other tray apps? Who knows? This is a nuisance and nothing else. It is a cheap ploy to take advantage of users’ Windows addictions and coerce them into upgrading to the full version of Windows 7.

Of course, as with what happened in the case of DRM, this limitation will be an annoyance to Microsoft’s loyal customers, and it will do nothing to stop pirates. Some Windows customers will buy a netbook with crippled Windows 7 and get frustrated and just install an old copy of Windows XP on it. Others will pirate the full version of Windows 7 and install that without paying for an upgrade. And still others will get frustrated with Windows altogether and go to Android or Ubuntu Linux. (Relatively few people will actually pay for an upgrade.)

When enough people flock to Linux on netbooks, Microsoft will be forced to pull Windows XP off the shelf yet again to stave off the competition.

Linux distros have their limitations, but they aren’t arbitrarily imposed on you by the Linux developers. The limitations all come from proprietary software and hardware vendors. Know why your Broadcom wireless card won’t work on Linux? Broadcom won’t port a driver to Linux or release the driver specs to Linux developers can incorporate it into the Linux kernel. Know why there’s no Adobe Creative Suite for Linux? Adobe doesn’t think there’s enough demand for it to warrant making a port, so it won’t make one for Linux.

Want to know why you can’t run more than three apps at a time in Windows 7 on netbooks? Microsoft won’t let you unless you pay for an upgrade. That’s right. You can’t blame it on some outside vendor. Microsoft, the maker of Windows 7, is saying “We don’t care about the end user or a good user experience. We want to offer you a crippled product in the hopes you’ll pay for the full product.” This is like a car salesperson offering you a discounted car with no front wheel. To get the fourth wheel you have to pay extra. Some discount.

Software freedom isn’t just about hackers wearing out their eyes staring at screens and typing into terminals. It isn’t just about programming and getting into arguments about which text editor is better than the other. Software freedom affects end users too. Because Linux offers freedom (not just free cost), if a distro ever tried to limit you to running only three apps at a time, another distro would just take that limit right off. Or someone would create a script to break that limitation.

There are short-term freedoms and long-term freedoms. The short-term freedom to run Windows-only programs will lead to the curtailing of long-term freedoms to not be limited by what Microsoft says you can and can’t do with the software you’ve purchased.